CELEBRATING 100: Hospital Construction – Hill-Burton Act

March 26, 2020

Moving to the developmental years of 1945 to 1960, WHA was influenced by the postwar era – a combination of the technology that emerged from the war and the nation’s growing desire for ready access to hospitals. With the current pandemic the United States is facing, ready access to hospitals is more important than ever.

This was underscored with passage of the Hill-Burton Act in 1946, which encouraged construction of hospitals throughout the state.

The Hospital Survey and Construction Act (or the Hill–Burton Act) is a U.S. federal law passed in 1946, during the 79th United States Congress. It was sponsored by Senator Harold Burton of Ohio and Senator Lister Hill of Alabama.[1]

In November 1945, President Harry S. Truman delivered a special message to Congress in which he outlined a five-part program for improving the health and health care of Americans. The Hospital Survey and Construction Act responded to the first of President Truman's proposals, which called for the construction of hospitals and related health care facilities and was designed to provide federal grants and guaranteed loans to improve the physical plant of the nation's hospital system. Money was designated to the states to achieve 4.5 beds per 1,000 people. The states allocated the available money to their various municipalities, but the law provided for a rotation mechanism, so that an area that received funding moved to the bottom of the list for further funding.

The following is an excerpt from a WHA newsletter from 1950.  It’s written by Vincent F. Otis, Director, Division of Hospital Survey and Construction, State Board of Health entitled The Hospital Construction Act, 1949 Amendments and Progress to Date

A talk before the annual conference of the Wisconsin Hospital Association, February 16, 1950, at the Schroeder Hotel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is the first time since the start of the hospital construction program that your speaker feels at ease in our great city of Milwaukee. You see, after three years of carefully worded promises about federal aid for hospitals, and with requests for aid exceeding the demand several times, the Board of Health last month finally reached Milwaukee with enough federal aid to assist six worthwhile projects.

I now will not have to take the other side of the street when a hospital administrator approaches, unless he is an administrator from an unaided hospital. There are now thirty-five approved hospital projects and I run told there are thirty-five loyal friends in favor of the program. A lot of credit for this sudden increase in friendship can be traced to October 25, 1949, the date President Truman signed Public Law 380 which amended Public Law 725, the original Hill­-Burton bill.

Construction and Planning in Progress

A total of thirty-five projects, which will provide 1,979 hospital beds and a new state laboratory of hygiene, have been approved to date. The estimated construction cost is approximately twenty-nine million dollars, of which the federal share will amount to over eleven million, four hundred thousand dollars. It is interesting to observe the allocation made for' these beds to hospitals according to the control of ownership. 'The largest number, 840 beds, or 42 percent of the total, is for church affiliated hospitals. The second largest group, 524 beds, or 27 percent of the total, is for non-profit associations without church affiliations. In other words. 69 percent of the beds is allocated to private non-profit institutions. County, city, city-county, and village ownership takes up 375 beds, or 19 percent of the total, and only 240 beds, or 12 percent, for one state-owned hospital for the treatment of acute mental patients at Winnebago. Wisconsin.

See full article here.

This story originally appeared in the March 26, 2020 edition of WHA Newsletter